We Were So Sure Martians Existed, We Excluded Them From A Contest
We humans have been interested in seeking out aliens since long before we ever ventured into space ourselves. Consider, for example, the Prix Guzman, a long-running competition to be the first person to make contact.
A wealthy Frenchwoman, Anne Emilie Clara Goguet, died in 1891 and created the prize in her will, naming it after her son. The first person to communicate with any planet besides Earth—with any celestial body in fact—and receive a reply from those there would win a hundred thousand francs. That's around $500,000 in today's money.
The rules included one catch. If you communicated with people on Mars, that didn't count. At the time, people considered the existence of Martians all but certain, and it's such a close planet, so communicating with Martians didn't seem like such a major accomplishment.
Over the next 80 years or so, various people thought they may win the big prize, but none did. In 1937, an aging Nikola Tesla declared that he would surely win the Prix Guzman thanks to a new process he'd invented, which could flash energy losslessly across interstellar space. He also announced a new invention that could produce limitless radium, dropping the metal's price to $1 a pound. Neither invention panned out (today, radium costs around $1 million an ounce). Maybe you were unaware that Nikola Tesla sometimes promised impossible inventions and never delivered on them; now you know why Elon Musk named his company for the man.
Finally, in 1969, the foundation administering the prize awarded it to the Apollo 11 team, following the Moon landing. This might sound unfair, because no one had chatted with aliens (and we've still not chatted with aliens, even today), but look again at the rules. The prize was for the first people to communicate with a celestial body other than Earth and Mars. The Moon is a celestial body. The first to communicate with a celestial body was therefore either mission control in Houston that day or Armstrong and Aldrin themselves—since the two men communicated with each other when both were in the lunar lander, between landing and when Armstrong said into the radio, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
Goguet never guessed that those first beings we'd contact on another celestial body would be us.
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Top image: Warner Bros.